Perspective and Palette | Salento

2020 has been an unpredictable and often unsettling year for us all, and for me, the reality hit home during our summer vacation. Restrictions on travel, socializing and movement affected summer plans everywhere – including our annual trip to my home, New York. When it became clear that we couldn’t fly to the U.S. from Italy, we switched gears and focused on “the boot”.

Swimming in the sparkling Ionian Sea, photo by my son

We ended up in a small town in Salento, Puglia, a seven-hour drive from Rome – the very heel of Italy. We had heard the seas of Salento were like the Caribbean. We had seen pictures of the gorgeous coasts, its cliffs, pine groves and white sands. No one had mentioned the dusty, small towns, forgotten by time, or the abandoned olive fields, the part of this place that drew my attention.

What struck me so vividly during our Salento stay, were not those turquoise waters (yes, stunning!), but its inner landscape. There, half-finished structures, roads that started out as asphalt and morphed into pebbly, dirt drives captivated my eyes. Architecturally, I marveled at the simplicity of the buildings, and thought of works by Cezanne and diChirico. Cubes in chiaroscuro are what I saw all around, broken up only by bulbous, alien-like cactus formations (fichi d’India) or aged, twisted olive trees.

I began to make perspective sketches, eyeing the linear shapes and their shadows. I also wanted to understand the design of the cactus, its truth, through drawing. Once inland from the seas, the palette deepened and lost its sparkling cloak. There were the neutral tones of the dry grasses and unwashed concrete buildings, punctuated by fig-green, rustic burgundy and pale purple. Finished villas popped out of the desolation like a desert flower – painted bright yellow, or candy blue, or happy green. I created an Iconic about what I felt.

The half-finished buildings and even the simplicity of the functioning ones felt like some kind of rough draft, and this feeling inspired my artistic inspiration more than any luxury hotel room. While I might have wanted to escape to a spa for some real pampering – I reveled in the Spartan surroundings for the unshowy beauty they could offer. Daily trips to the mythical Ionian seaside were a balm, after my walks through the faded parts of towns and olive groves waiting in the ruthless sun.

A faded mural found while exploring a small Salento town


Salento provided an appropriate vision for this period – the rough draft for a transformed earth.